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Opinion

The Penis – What You Didn’t Learn from Health Class, Sunday School, or Porn

Opinion
By Z.S. Roe

As young teenagers, my friends and I often played the “Penis Game.”  The gist of it is this: the bunch of us would gather in a public place and then one after the other start whispering “penis,” with each guy saying it louder than the person before him. Very quickly our whispers became shouts, and then our shouts became bellows. Such is a teenage boy’s sense of humour.

What makes the Penis Game so appealing to young boys is its increasing obnoxiousness.  What begins as perhaps a little impolite quickly escalates to grating and offensive.  Very rarely do any of us use the word “penis” in polite conversation, never mind shout it out loud for all to hear.  But maybe we should; perhaps the penis is something worth shouting about—it’s history, after all, is quite remarkable.

GOD'S DOODLE:  THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE PENIS is only the first of several books I'm reading in preparation for my novel

GOD’S DOODLE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE PENIS is one of several books I’m reading in preparation for my novel

Currently, I’m in the research stage of writing my first novel.  For now, I’ll keep the plot of the novel to myself; the subject matter, however, is fair game:  the book will consider issues of sexuality, religion, and loss of faith.

While I don’t usually enjoy research, I’ve been tickled pink by what I’ve learned so far.  As such, I thought I’d share some of my findings with you, book by book.  And so today’s post is all about most men’s favourite appendage, as wonderfully recounted in Tom Hickman’s book, God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis.

Here we go:

SIZE:  Many males are forever worried about the size of their penis and how it does or does not stand up (wink wink) to the penises of other men.  Bigger is better right?  Well, not necessarily so.  Ancient Greeks preferred their penises to be small and taut; only barbarians, they believed, sported big wangs.  Even today, many Tibetans believe it is unlucky for a man to be over-endowed—small and sinewy wins the race, I guess.  But, just in case you’re still worried that your little peter is actually little, the average flaccid penis is between 3 and 5 inches (it fluctuates), while the average erect penis is between 4.8 and 8.5 inches, though is usually around 6.2 inches.  And since thickness seems to be all the rage now, the average circumference of a penis is 4.75 inches.  Hooray for statistics.

SEMEN:  Throughout much of recorded history, men believed that their supply of semen was extraordinarily limited.  Those who, by one means or another, ejaculated too frequently were thought to run the risk of illness and a significantly shortened life.  As you might guess, this is partly why masturbation was frowned upon in many western cultures.  We know better now, of course, but there’s still a great deal about semen that might surprise you.  For instance, women who absorb semen vaginally during sex are less depressed than those whose partners use condoms—like milk, I suppose, it does the body good.  Frighteningly, though, sperm counts have more than halved in the last fifty years.  Scientists have cited many possible causes from pollution to life stresses, but no real effective solutions have been found.  So, there’s that.

 EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK, A PENIS:  These days, the penis is rarely bandied about outside of porno sets and doctor’s offices; however, its ubiquity was once a given in many cultures.  For example, the Greeks and Romans sculpted penises on the walls of their cities, houses, and public baths to ward off bad luck.  Of course, their penis love went beyond mere representation.  In the fifth century BC young Athenian men frequently displayed their genitals in everyday life.  But maybe that’s not so bad compared to ancient Hebrew men who, when making a pledge, would grab hold of the other man’s member (this includes good old Abraham of the Old Testament).  On second thought, though, the ancient Athenians might take the cake after all:  when an older Athenian man greeted a teenage boy, he’d often fondle the boy’s package as today one might ruffle a boy’s hair.  By today’s standards I guess the latter might seem the more extreme … by just a tad … or a ball sack.

THE HOLY PENIS:  For countless centuries, the penis played an important role in most religions.  For instance, in almost every ancient culture, young women were known to mount a stone or wooden penis before their wedding night, effectively giving their virginity to the gods.  Weird, perhaps, but it’s only the beginning.  Today, most people consider Christians to be rather sexually conservative, and certainly not open admirers of the mighty penis.  But this was not always the case.  In fact, until about the fifth century AD, early Christians often carried phalluses in their religious processions, and frequently carved phalluses on the walls of their churches.  Stranger yet, the Middle Ages saw Christians in search of Christ’s foreskin.  Yes, you heard that right—up to eighteen different medieval European towns claimed to have found said foreskin.  But let’s take it one further:  during the Renaissance, German and Dutch artists went so far as to depict the suffering or crucified Christ with an erection.  I guess, you might say, that Christ has indeed risen.

ERECTION/EJACULATION:  Wouldn’t you know it—most boys’ first ejaculation occurs while they’re masturbating.  Their first erection, however, can occur … well, anytime … including while still in the womb.  And while ejaculation cannot happen until puberty has kicked in, you might not know that fifty percent of five-year-old boys have orgasms (ejaculation and orgasm are not the same thing).  And, since we’re already on this road, what about nocturnal emissions (i.e. wet dreams)?  Well, during the Middle Ages, men believed that if they woke up in the morning and found their spent ejaculate on the bed sheets it was a clear sign that they’d been raped by a succubus (female demon) during the night.  The Victorians, however, were far crazier.  Still believing that a man’s amount of semen was limited, they did everything they could to prevent males from masturbating, including fitting him with one of several different devices.  Said devices ranged from lockable cages worn around the genitals to belts that would give you an electric shock should your dooey start to spit.  One device was even hooked up to a phonograph and would start to play music the moment you got an erection in order to wake you up and save you from yourself; if you were still a teenager, though, it would sound an alarm in your parent’s bedroom.

CIRCUMCISION:  To snip or not to snip—for many new parents the decision is any easy one; for others, it is anything but.  Still, you might be interested to know that until the nineteenth century, there was no Western tradition of circumcision.  What made the practice so popular was the hysteria surrounding masturbation.  Doctors told their patients that a boy whose tip had been snipped was less likely to tug on his monkey in later life … oh, and he was also less likely to wet the bed.  By World War One, many in the medical profession were simply saying that the practice was “hygienic.”  Historically speaking, one rarely thinks about circumcision without also thinking about Jews and their championing of the practice.  And while many of us are familiar with the various way Jews have been persecuted throughout history, rarely do we pay much attention to the Jewish penis.  But Jews in Hellenic cultures where public nakedness was the norm in baths and gymnasiums were often persecuted for their circumcised members, so much so in fact that many of them resorted to a stretching device called the Pondus Judaeus.  Even today, some Jews resort to foreskin restoration in order to improve their social standing outside of their respective Jewish community.

In the end, it’s fair to conclude that the penis has played a curious role throughout human history.  Mind you, what I’ve recounted here is but the very tip of a rather sizable doodle … metaphorically speaking, that is.  Incidentally, Tom Hickman’s God’s Doodle:  The Life and Times of the Penis was not a book I’d sought out; in fact, it was a present from my wife, and one I’m incredibly grateful for.  In his book, Hickman gives a detailed and enthralling history of the penis that I (strange as it might sound) couldn’t recommend enough.  The many things I didn’t know about man’s … um … shaft of glory … well, it left me quite literally astonished.

In my next post I’ll share what I’ve learned about the penis’s long-time companion from Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography.

Liked this?  Check Out:

The History of the Vagina:  Shame, Misunderstanding and Porn

The Bible, Sex, and Marriage: A confused Story of Contradictory Positions

Opinion is a weekly(ish) column of just that, my opinion. While opinions are like noses and everyone has one, mine are especially snotty. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.

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